How to Get an Autistic Child To Keep Their Shoes On
A simple task that most parents see as an everyday function isn’t as easy to manage with autistic children. A common problem for parents of children with autism is getting them to keep their shoes on. There are several reasons why wearing shoes can be a matter of contention, and we’re going to share tips on how to ease the difficulty for your child and keep their shoes on.
Why is it Hard for Autistic Children to Keep Their Shoes On?
Before we jump into tips for helping your child manage their shoes, it’s important to understand why it’s difficult for children on the autistic spectrum to keep them on. There are several reasons why an autistic child might be reluctant to wear shoes, and it could boil down to one or more contributing factors.
- Sensory Issues – A common reason for disliking shoes boils down to sensory issues. Sensory processing disorder is often associated with autism, and it causes hypersensitivity to certain materials and elements, such as shoes and socks. Children with autism may be sensitive to how socks and shoes feel on their feet, making it difficult for them to cope while wearing them.
- Stress – Stressful situations, such as learning how to tie shoelaces, may increase their unwillingness to wear shoes. For many autistic children who have delays in fine motor skills, a task such as putting on shoes becomes stressful, triggering meltdowns, outbursts, and disinterest in wearing shoes at all.
- Orthopedic issues that may cause pain – Foot pain may also be contributing to the reason that your child doesn’t want to wear shoes. Medical and physical foot conditions can limit movement, and shoes amplify the pain a child might already be feeling.
How to Get Your Autistic Child to Keep Their Shoes On
So now that we’ve identified some of the reasons your child might not want to wear their shoes, here are some solutions that will help your child get and keep those shoes on
Implement Social Storytelling
What is a social story? A social story is a method of explaining “why” to your child using symbols, pictures, or in-depth storytelling. In the case of wearing shoes, you can explain why they need to wear shoes, the purpose of shoes, how they protect their feet, keep their feet safe, etc. You can also paint a visual image of what wearing shoes on a daily basis looks like and how it is included in our daily routines. For example, when we get ready for school each day, we get dressed, put on our shoes, walk outside, play at the playground, go to school, come home, take our shoes off, etc.
Measure and Match the Correct Shoe Size
Having the correct shoe size is imperative for the success of your child wearing their shoes. Shoes that are too tight will be painful and can even prevent foot growth. It is important that your child is wearing the correct shoe size for their feet. Regularly measure and match correct shoe sizes to avoid potential issues.
Use Seamless Socks
If sensory issues are a major factor for your child, socks may play a big role when it comes to wearing shoes. Many times, the feeling of the socks’ seams against the skin is uncomfortable, so switching to sensory-friendly, seamless socks might help ease the comfort level and provide relief for those sensitive areas.
Several brands provide sensory-friendly seamless socks, such as EZ Sox, SmartKnit Kids, CalmCare, and Sockabu. Choosing socks with softer fabrics such as bamboo or cotton can also aid in soothing the sensory issues. Their non-skid bottoms and pull-up loops are easier for children to put on while also promoting independence and self-reliance.
Buy Adaptive Shoes
Adaptive shoes are great for autistic children struggling with their shoes. They are specifically designed to be comfortable, functional for special needs, and also fashionable. They are made with pull tabs, adjustable straps, and removable insoles, making them easy to put on and take off. They are also orthotics-friendly – perfect for children with autism.
Does Your Child Need Orthotics?
Sometimes musculoskeletal issues can play a part in your child’s shoe-wearing difficulties. If your child suffers from foot pain or walking difficulties, check with a podiatrist to determine whether or not additional support is needed. Orthotics, special shoe inserts, can be used to improve foot support. Orthopedic shoes, and in some cases, ankle-foot orthoses may also be needed.
Tips for Going to the Shoe Store with Your Autistic Child
A simple trip to the shoe store can be overwhelming for autistic children with sensory difficulties. Shoe stores contain rows and rows of various colors, textures and layers, triggering stress, anxiety, and disruptive outbursts or behaviors. But there are several tips to help you minimize these triggers and maximize the shopping experience for your child. Here’s how you can prepare your child for a trip to the shoe store:
- Measure your child’s feet at home One very helpful tip for buying new shoes for your child is to measure their feet at home before taking them to a store. Sometimes shopping for shoes can be a difficult experience for autistic children, so coming prepared will help ease the situation. There are at-home foot-measuring devices such as a RITZ Stick or a Clarks foot gauge that you can buy to measure your child’s foot in advance, eliminating that process in the store.
- Buy more than one pair of shoes during your visit Take advantage of your time in the store and eliminate follow-up trips by buying more than one pair of shoes. Once you find the shoe that works best for your child, buy a few pairs of the same shoe in additional sizes. This makes moving into a new size shoe easy as the new shoe is identical to the previous one. In addition, if your child is having an extremely difficult time in the store, you can also buy additional shoes and try them on at home. You can keep the ones that work and return the ones that don’t. Always check the store’s return policy before trying out this method.
- Bring a calming item for your child Bringing your child’s favorite soothing item, such as a toy, stuffed animal, or blanket, can help calm them down if the shopping experience becomes too overwhelming for them.
- Identify potential triggers at the shoe store Preparing for potential triggers inside the shoe store that may cause anxiety for your child can help to make the process easier. If your child is sensitive to bright lights, bring sunglasses or a hat to help reduce the light absorbed. If your child is sensitive to loud noises, bring noise-reducing headphones to block out the sounds. Coming prepared will help lessen potential discomforts for your child.
- Reward your child for good behavior Positive reinforcement after a successful trip to the shoe store will help boost confidence for return trips. Reward your child with a treat or fun activity and provide lots of praise and attention for a job well done.\
Best Adaptive Shoe Brands for Autistic Children
Thankfully, there are many brands that are designing adaptive shoes for autistic children. Here are some of the best adaptive shoe brands for children with sensory issues:
Tsukihoshi shoes are a great choice for autistic children with shoe-wearing difficulties. They are comfortable and flexible and offer no-tie stretchy laces and wide toe boxes – ideal for children with motor skill delays and those who wear braces. They are easy to put on and take off and are latex-free. They are also machine washable and easy to keep clean.
Stride Rite is another great choice with its wide and extra-wide shoes. Fitted with memory foam, hook-and-loop fasteners, flexible soles, and oversized openings, these shoes are great for autistic children. They also have traction on the bottom to help with stability. There’s a variety of choices for both girls and boys, from sneakers to sandals and more.
Pediped is another fantastic option with their sensory-inclusive shoes for children with autism. They also encourage comfort and independence with easy hook-and-loop fasteners, memory foam, and machine washable.
BILLY Footwear has designed an entire shoe line of adaptive shoes that are fantastic for children with autism. Not only do they provide shoes with zippers that allow kids to open and fold over easily, but Billy Footwear’s brand also focuses specifically on creating universal shoes that are accessible to everyone with any ability level. It’s an initiative close to the heart of its founder, who lost the ability to move much of his body due to becoming paralyzed from the waist down and wanted to find a way to put on his shoes with ease.
Last, but definitely not least, Plae shoes are perfect for children who wear ankle-foot orthoses or supra-malleolar orthosis. They are flexible, include velcro straps and wide options, and are machine washable. And they have a special Plae-Kidizen REWEAR program, where you can resell the shoes once your child outgrows them.
As you know, your child is unique and special in his or her own way, which is why we have provided a variety of tips for getting them to keep their shoes on. Not all tips pertain to or work for all children. You know your child best, and we highly recommend you do whatever tip(s) works the best for them. Whether it’s starting with seamless socks and adaptive shoes or preparing your child for trips to the shoe store, you’ve got this!